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Witherspin: Starways, #1

Witherspin: Starways, #1

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Witherspin: Starways, #1

Length:
329 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 12, 2019
ISBN:
9781942686132
Format:
Book

Description

In a spinning city full of intrigue, romance, and dangerous games, the word for everything going wrong is witherspin.

 

Nia Courant is an interstellar lawyer. Years ago, on the other side of the stars, she made a disastrous decision.  It wrecked her life and ruined her career. She found work at a university in the space-station city called Wendis. But the university is a sheltered bubble in a strange culture built around an interstellar amusement park. She knows she's at a disadvantage in Wendis unless she learns how to play its games of chance and danger. What she doesn't know is that love can be a dangerous game too. 

 

Gyle Martan is an exile in Wendis. For him, the spinning city was an uncomfortable port in a deadly political storm. His façade as a University official conceals a mystery. The core of the mystery is something dark and dangerous. He knows his past will catch him if it can and destroy him if it does. But then he falls in love with Nia and begins to imagine something better than lonely exile. 

 

When everything starts going wrong around them in Wendis, Nia and Martan must cooperate with each other in a danger game they never expected. Now Nia is Martan's best  ally. Martan is Nia's best hope. Unfortunately, he may also be her worst nightmare.

Publisher:
Released:
Dec 12, 2019
ISBN:
9781942686132
Format:
Book

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Witherspin - Alexis Glynn Latner

Witherspin

Witherspin

Alexis Glynn Latner

Avendis Press

Copyright © 2019 by Alexis Glynn Latner

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

About Witherspin

In a spinning city full of intrigue, romance, and dangerous games, the word for everything going wrong is witherspin. 

Nia Courant is an interstellar lawyer. Years ago, on the other side of the stars, she made a disastrous decision.  It wrecked her life and ruined her career. She found work at a university in the space-station city called Wendis. But the university is a sheltered bubble in a strange culture built around an interstellar amusement park. She knows she’s at a disadvantage in Wendis unless she learns how to play its games of chance and danger. What she doesn’t know is that love can be a dangerous game too. 

Gyle Martan is an exile in Wendis. For him, the spinning city was an uncomfortable port in a deadly political storm. His façade as a University official conceals a mystery. The core of the mystery is something dark and dangerous. He knows his past will catch him if it can and destroy him if it does. But then he falls in love with Nia and begins to imagine something better than lonely exile. 

When everything starts going wrong around them in Wendis, Nia and Martan must cooperate with each other in a danger game they never expected. Now Nia is Martan’s best ally. Martan is Nia’s best hope. Unfortunately, he may also be her worst nightmare.

For Eileen K. Stansbery

Contents

1. Greening Day

2. Fair Play

3. The Plain Of Pain

4. Rocket Park

5. The Queen Of Europa

6. Return

7. Truce Token

8. The Spies’ Guild

9. Shove and Shove Back

10. Turning Points

11. Gauntlet

12. Skylark

13. The Glassberry Thorn

14. Wildway

15. Inferno

16. Fair Country

17. The High Road

18. Inquest

19. Storm Warning

20. The Most Dangerous Game

21. The Kestrel

Next Adventures

Chapter 1—The Bane King

Also by Alexis Glynn Latner

About the Author

Acknowledgments

1

Greening Day

The Great Wall of Wendis loomed over Nia like a glass cliff. Her footfalls echoed on the Wall’s wide fauxstone stairway. On the other side of the clear Wall was the space shield, with complicated metallic corrugations the size of ravines. She climbed upward in the space shield’s shadow, in cold and stillness. Except for her, the Great Wall seemed deserted tonight.

The absence of other people puzzled but also pleased her. There was no one else around to witness her missteps. As she climbed higher, the spingravity lessened, but the tendency to misplace her feet increased. Wendis was an enormous, solitary, spinning cylinder in deep space. Spingravity held everything in Wendis in place, but it was a tricky facsimile of gravity. For someone like Nia, who had grown up on a terraformed planet, spingravity and stairs were a bad combination, and the vast whorl of stairways inside the Great Wall of Wendis posed a severe test. Every year she lived here, though, it got easier.

The proximity of space chilled the air. Nia’s breath condensed into white wisps. Now, faint starlight glazed the fauxstone steps. Higher up, the concave rim of the space shield glittered with reflected starlight, and starlight flooded the steps. Encouraged, Nia dared to run up the rest of the way. She reached the High Landing breathing hard, but victorious.

Then she realized that someone was already there, turning around in an irritated flicker of motion at the sound of her footsteps. He was shirtless and pale as white marble. He had the slim-hipped build of a boy. But behind his shoulders, transparent membranes with red veins angled over his head and slanted down beside his torso—he had diaphanous wings, tented like the wings of a bug. Nia froze. She knew Wendis harbored two or three of his kind, but she’d never seen one before. She didn’t like meeting one here.

They were called Angels, a flattery intended to placate them, because everyone was afraid of them. The rumor of an Angel on the Great Wall would clear everyone else away in a hurry. That explained why the Wall was deserted tonight. And it meant she might be in danger. She suppressed an urge to bolt back down the stairs. For her, that could be more dangerous than the Angel. Instead she sidled away along the High Landing. Apprehension made her skin prickle.

The Angel stared at her with large dark eyes. Then the Angel said, Azuri.

Nia stiffened with anger on top of her apprehension. A person from the planet Azure was an Azurean. Azuri meant a thing from Azure. Shandy, she retorted. A thing from Shandy.

The Angel responded with a cold flicker of a smile.

Nia circled around the High Landing, taking slight, low-energy steps lest she accidentally launch herself over the guard rail in the scant spingravity. Above her, starlight shone on a latticework of metallic beams and gratings. When Nia reached another stairway, a third of the way around the Landing, the Angel was distant and lost in silvery light. She breathed easier.

The Angels had been human before they were changed to live in low-gravity, artificial environments in deep space. According to Wendisan lore, they were the creatures of a merciless interstellar god named Shandy.

Nia scanned the landing. No sign of the Angel. Fact: all he had done was toss an insult at her. Another fact, one she knew too well: rumors can mutilate the truth. The Angel had been looking out at the stars before he heard her coming. Maybe all he wanted was the view. Nia stretched to ease her leg muscles and let the view claim her own attention.

The Great Wall of Wendis was the transparent western end of the spinning space cylinder. Above the glittering rim of the space shield, around the spin axis, the Great Wall was a window on the universe. All around Wendis, starships and star bubbles flickered like fireflies in an eternal night. Arriving starships re-entered realspace with flares of light. Lesser flashes heralded bubbles containing messages and small goods from other worlds. Fading, the ship lights and bubble lights sorted themselves out. The ships maneuvered toward the Port on the other end of Wendis. The bubbles streamed into the Mailyard net below the Great Wall. And the backdrop of it all was starry space, rotating with the incessant spin of Wendis.

Wendisans had their own constellations. Nia didn’t know most of those. But she recognized the Raptor, the seven stars of the Faxen Union. Above the Raptor’s back—in the safest position that close to the Raptor—wheeled the sun of Azure. Her home. So far away that the blue seas and white continents were only a trace of photons in the spark of light of that distant star.

Homesickness rolled over her like a cold, heavy wave. At this moment, the dawn of Greening Day was sweeping over Azure. Once every year for three years, Nia had climbed the Great Wall of Wendis when it was Greening Day on Azure, observing the holiday in her own lonely way from here. With a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach, she remembered her last Greening Day at home. It came just after her career crashed down in ruins along with her father’s ambitions for her. They had an argument wracked with pain and anger on both sides. He had finally shouted at her. You made an interstellar fool of yourself! Admit it! She fired furious words back at him. Unspoken, yet ringing in the air at a psychologically deafening volume, was their family history. The Courants were descendants of the starship astronauts from Earth, the star voyagers who first brought green hope to a barren ice world. From her childhood on, much had been expected of Nia Courant. Before the end of her last Green Holidays on Azure, she had argued with everyone in her family. Was it still homesickness, if you’d been sick of home and they of you when you left?

Behind her, a voice said, Hello, Inanna.

She whirled. The landing was empty. But the Angel knelt on a metal beam overhead, intently regarding her. Nia felt the chill of fear. She hadn’t realized that with wings, in low gravity, he could glide this far. How do you know my name?

Don’t be surprised, the Angel answered. You’re famous.

Nia retreated to the stairway. She found the first step by feel. Her heart pounded. Acutely aware of how steeply the stairs curved down, she hesitated. The Angel flexed his wings. Stars shone through translucent membranes with ruby-red veins. Unnerved, Nia said, Enjoy the view, and turned away from the Angel to the stairs.

Down was safety. But safety was a long way down.

One step. One more. One after another. Fear of falling and fear of the Angel crowded out her breathing. Her overtaxed leg muscles quivered, but she pushed herself until she reached the Low Landing.

A tube train flashed by; pedestrians and delivery bots shared the sidewalk, and never had the populous nocturnal hum of Wendis sounded so reassuring to Nia. She halted and leaned on a railing for support. If the Great Wall was an annual, self-imposed test, she passed with flying colors this time.

But the Angel came as a very unwelcome complication. How did he know her name? Very few people in Wendis knew that Nia was a lifelong nickname, and her real name was Inanna. And what did the Angel mean by famous? She was an interstellar lawyer, recently promoted to Assistant Counsel at Avend University in Wendis. That didn’t qualify as fame. Wendis had plenty of interstellar lawyers, most of them more accomplished than she was.

The Angel’s voice had been soft and yet cold, so cold it burned in her memory.

Suddenly the signal pod on her bracelet trilled. The contour of the trill told her that she had a bubble in the Mailyard. For a moment Nia just stared at the trilling pod. A bubble for her just when it was Greening Day on Azure? That was almost as unexpected as the Angel.

In more peaceful times, the space shield stayed irised all the way down to the Low Landing, where people could watch star bubbles come and go in the Mailyard. The mail station was located just off the Low Landing on a street called the Milky Way. A uniformed mail official queried the identity pod on Nia’s bracelet. Satisfied by her identity, the official produced her bubble. Automated scanners had already screened and approved it, and it rested on the scanner tray, like a giant pearl. The bubble split open and folded down to reveal its cargo—a glass bottle full of liquid, the pale pink of dawn on Azure.

The gift tag flashed on the scanner screen. Nia dear, have a happy Greening Day, and all our love. Eirene and Vim. Nia was so surprised that she felt light-headed. She knew better than to expect Greening Day gifts from her parents, but she’d never dreamed that Grandmother Eirene and Grandda Vim would send her a bottle of Aquarel.

The mail official said genially, It’s good to get a bubble when you’re far from home.

Nia nodded.

Do you know about the Ascendance Fair? It’s the most wonderful event in Wendis. Visitors come from all the terraformed planets for the Fair. It starts tomorrow, and this year it will be better than ever.

So I understand. I work with Hiro Hiroshi Low, Nia answered.

The mail official beamed. Hiro Hiroshi is a Wendisan of faultless patience and politeness, a true son of the Service Guild! That’s my own Guild. He’s bringing honor to us all.

Hiro was Nia’s invaluable legal assistant. Serving on the Fair Committee was an important civic responsibility for him, and he had been carrying it well. Unfortunately for Nia, though, Hiro was patiently, politely, and honorably determined to cast her in a ridiculous role in the upcoming Ascendance Fair. She could imagine news about that getting back to Azure during the Green Holidays. Just thinking about it made her tense up. With a mental jolt, Nia wondered if the Fair had been what the Angel meant by famous. Wendis was a small world, its connective social tissue was gossip, and the most exciting annual event in the world was the Fair.

The mail official deftly knotted the ends of Nia’s carry-cloth over the bottle. Cradling the cloth-wrapped Aquarel in her arms, Nia left the mail station with her thoughts churning. She could well imagine whatever Hiro had told the Fair Committee about her, percolating into the social aquifer of Wendis. Complete with her real name—Inanna—and the fact that she had been named after a Wendisan great-grandmother. Oh no. The last thing in the universe Nia wanted was fame as an actress in a tourist-attracting carnival in Wendis.

For most of her three years here, her mind had been elsewhere: mastering interstellar law, grappling with the legalities of the university’s relationships with the Faxen Union as well as the Alliance of Starmark. That might not be good enough. She’d surrendered her Azurean citizenship when she came here. Her family bridges, if not burned down, were badly charred. She didn’t want to remain an outsider in Wendis indefinitely. Especially not an outsider who was fair game for casting in the Ascendance Fair. She had to find a way to be at home here. But how? With Azurean looks and planet-born awkwardness in spingravity, her chances of seamlessly fitting in weren’t much better than the Angel’s.

Nia crossed a civic plaza to its far end.

Slender arches framed a view of the interior of the cylindrical world. Tonight Wendis was full of fog and erratic winds that tattered and twisted the fog or let it pool in sheltered places. She could barely make out Avend University’s glassbrick spires and the hilly park uphill from the campus. The park was dotted with lanterns and pavilions set up for the Ascendance Fair. Bobbing in a breeze, the lanterns looked pretty, like cottony fireflies. Nia had never attended the Fair. She’d stayed too busy with work. Unremitting work had gained her the job of Assistant Counsel at the university.

Wendis was a hard place to get to know. It showed foreigners a polite and entertaining face, which turned out to be practically inscrutable. After three years Nia knew less about Wendis than the average Wendisan child. The Fair, on the other hand, was designed expressly for visitors. It might be fun, if you could just be an entertained visitor.

As though the signal pod on her bracelet had read her mind, it chirped a call from Hiro. Nia stepped into a nearby commcube to hear what he had to say. When she put the pod into the signal slot, one wall of the commcube melted away to show the foggy, lantern-lit park close up. Hiro appeared in front of her, holding a butter-yellow daffodil.

No, Nia told him.

He was a slender Wendisan with golden skin, curly black hair, and a pleasant, expressive face. Now his forehead wrinkled slightly. No?

No, I will not play the part of the Queen of Europa in your Fair.

The Fair Committee just had a long meeting. Almost the only item on the agenda everyone agreed on was that you would be the best choice for the role in all of Wendis! We have so few people with authentic Europan skin tones, and like most lawyers, you’re good at acting. Behind Hiro, people struggled to inflate a large pavilion, with a breeze making the transparent material twist and flap. And this year our Fair happens to coincide with your home world’s Green Holidays, commemorating your astronaut ancestors. Surely that would be propitious.

More like conspicuous. Torn between admiration and irritation at Hiro’s persistence, Nia used the Wendisan triple negative. No, no-no. Is this why you called?

Hiro opened his hands; the daffodil disappeared. It was a virtual flower. Not really. We have a legal emergency.

He explained. On the other end of Wendis tonight, in the Port, a xenecology professor returning with a newly discovered alien species had run afoul of Customs in the Port. Customs balked after the professor checked both plant and animal in the declarations form.

A window in the commwall flashed on, showing six small tangles of leaves and tendrils. They looked like thinnings from Grandda Vim’s garden greenhouse. All six specimens had been impounded at the Port.

Nia told Hiro, I’m sure the Port officials don’t want anything dangerous getting past them into the Fair. But Professor Zeng is a reputable xenecologist. He wouldn’t bring in something dangerous. Our best tactic is a provisional waiver of identity, like for people, when their gender is ambivalent but irrelevant. An identity waiver will put the matter into a different department in the Port—away from anyone heated up by arguing with Zeng.

I’ll transmit the waiver within the hour. Should the creatures be provisionally animal or vegetable? Hiro had a twinkle in his eye. Or mineral?

Vegetable. The Wendisan fondness for plants may predispose the Port authorities favorably. A vine-and-flower design bordered the walls of Nia’s commcube. I wonder if the plant-animals bloom? That would be an interesting twist in your flower code.

A luminous daffodil winked into the flowery border of the commwall. That much of the flower code she knew. A daffodil symbolized the offer of an unexpected yet delightful opportunity. On the verge of saying for the last time, NO, Nia found her attention caught by the inflated pavilion behind Hiro. Someone had turned on a string of colored lights along its spine. The pavilion reminded Nia of Greening Eve, of phosphor lights blazing in niches carved in ice outdoors, bright chandeliers in a lofty cathedral, singing and giving gifts. Being a gifted member of a happy family. The pavilion blurred with Nia’s tears.

Counselor?

If he’d directly asked her what the problem was, she might have told him. It tied into things she hated to think about, but tonight had brought everything closer to the surface than usual. With a direct question, she would have explained. But it was Wendisan custom not to ask direct, personal questions.

Silence stretched out uncomfortably.

I’m not rejecting your Fair. The thought of staying at work while all of Wendis was having a festival made the pit of her stomach feel hollow. I’m sure it’s wonderful.

Maybe Hiro picked up on the emotional freight in her words. I would be honored to show you the Fair on Opening Day. Let me give you an insider’s view of the Fair.

It was an attractive offer, but Hiro had ulterior motives.

Then Nia realized what was going on. Space games. In all spaceships and stations everywhere, people invented innumerable little games—weightless food games, clever new uses for tools, subtle exercises in marking territory—ways to stay sane and cooperative in close quarters in a patently hostile universe. As huge and old as it was, Wendis was a space habitat too. For her to ever be at home here, she would have to learn to play intricate Wendisan space games. Her choices were to be a player or to be a pawn. Being an unknowing pawn was how she had once made an interstellar fool of herself. She did not like being a pawn.

She’d rather be a player. Starting with the Fair. The bottle of Aquarel felt cool and heavy inside the carry-cloth. In a way that had nothing to do with the brain chemistry involving ethanol, it gave her courage. Here goes. Mattis and Vijay-Kol each asked me to go to the Fair. To be evenhanded, I’ll go with both of them, and you can show us the Fair, but you’ll be free to leave if Committee duty calls you away.

It was a reasonable counteroffer, and Hiro knew it. I will be honored, he said politely.

Nia felt pleased with herself. She suspected that Mattis and Vijay-Kol, given the interest each of them had been showing in her lately, and given an opportunity to attend the Fair with her, would outdo each other trying to monopolize her. At best, everyone would have a reasonably good time. At worst, Hiro would have very little leeway to maneuver her into the unwanted role of Queen of Europa.

The rational side of her mind asked, would playing that role really be so bad?

A different part of her mind countered with the slashing swiftness of a reflex burned in by pain. Looking like a fool is always bad. It wrecks your life. Never again.

2

Fair Play

Words glittered on a soaring gate the color of gold. Welcome to Parhelon Fair, it said.

This was the oldest and grandest of all the Ascendance Fairs in Starmark. The Fairs all celebrated that singular age of invention and violence that formed the modern human universe—the age of the Ascendance—when rockets first launched from the face of Earth, spacecraft streamed away from the home planet, and finally, starships left, never to return.

A chattering crowd streamed through admission portals in the golden gate, but Hiro directed Nia to an inconspicuous side door. He waved his Fair pass and let them both into the Fairgrounds. What would you most like to see? Hiro asked.

Nia answered, My Wendisan great-grandmother was very old, and I was very small when she died. But I remember her having soft wrinkles and white hair like a cloud and telling me about the Fair in Wendis, that it meant playing make-believe games, having good things to eat, and putting on costumes. It sounded wonderful.

Then we’ll look for your great-grandmother’s Fair today, Hiro said warmly.

A few minutes later, two familiar, youthful professors strode through the Golden Gate. It should be ‘Perihelion Fair,’ said Mattis, the disheveled but brilliant physicist. Right now Wendis is at perihelion in orbit around its sun.

Vijay-Kol, contrastingly sleek and polished but equally brilliant, parried with a criticism from his own field. As I tell my Elementary History class, this Fair distorts history to a ludicrous extent. The real Golden Gate is thought by most scholars to have been a bridge.

Those are functionally different things.

Nia smiled at them. Evidently, they were going to be every bit as possessive of her attention as she had expected. Let’s see Hiro get around that!

Hiro said, Most visitors go to the Mall first of all.

To get to there we follow the yellow brick road, Vijay-Kol said, reading a signpost.

It’s interesting that people in the twentieth century favored yellow bricks for roadway paving material, said Mattis.

The Replica Factory sold precious plastic toys, letter openers shaped like prehistoric swords, and model rockets. Mattis and Vijay-Kol found those things more fascinating than Nia did. Hiro suggested, Just a few doors down is the shop with the best garb in the whole Fair. Let me show you. Intrigued, Nia followed Hiro out of the Replica Factory, into the center of the Mall, which surrounded an ice-skating rink under a skylight.

It gave Nia an odd twinge to think of ice skating on the fevered world that Earth had been at the Ascendance. Here, though, the ice rink was a playground. Neophytes in bright clothes lined up at the rail on one side of the ice, released the rail then coasted toward the opposite one, pushed by the spingravity. Advanced skaters glided through loops reshaped by spingravity, carving rococo lines on the ice. In a separate area, fenced off by an elastic barricade, people from terraformed worlds scooted across the ice on their backs and bottoms, laughing and gasping at how spingravity made them swerve or slow or accelerate, depending on which way they launched themselves from the rail.

The Timely Emporium occupied a prime location facing the ice rink. Nia felt a flash of alarm when Hiro revealed that the shop belonged to Bess Elzebet Seller, the Chairwoman of the Fair Committee. She was away, though. Busy running the whole Fair, she had left a niece in charge. So instead of encountering the Fair’s Chair, Nia met her goods.

Folded bandannas and neckties filled small bins. Brightly colored Twentycent garb dangled from high racks. Exquisitely crafted pieces of jewelry were displayed in transparent cases. On top of the cases, glass and stone beads were heaped like lustrous moraines. Oh my, Nia

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